New freeze set to pass security cabinet by one vote

Obama calls measure “very constructive step," says Netanyahu "is serious"; rightists show stiff resistance.

Obama Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
By a margin of one, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to pass his proposal for a 90-day settlement freeze when he brings the matter before the 15-member security cabinet.
US President Barack Obama on Sunday said the proposed freeze was a “very constructive step” that he hoped would lead to serious peace negotiations soon.
Coalition likely to survive vote on incentive package
US asks Israel for 90-day settlement building moratorium
Poll: Should the government accept the US freeze proposal?
Editor's Notes: Now we’re all up a tree
What the US is proposing, as presented to the cabinet
“I think it’s a signal that he [Netanyahu] is serious,” Obama said.
But before those talks with the Palestinian Authority begin, Netanyahu must defeat stiff resistance by right-wing opponents who believe they can overcome his narrow margin in the security cabinet.
According to a count done by The Jerusalem Post, right now, seven security cabinet members support the measures, and six oppose it. It would not apply to east Jerusalem.
The critical element that would appear to allow the proposal’s passage is the expectation that the two Shas ministers in the security cabinet will abstain from the vote.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who heads Shas, said his party would support defacto on the assumption that east Jerusalem construction could continue as normal during the 90-day period and that Obama wouldpromise in writing that at the end of the freeze, settlement building would resume throughout the West Bank.
Right-wing Likud MKs threatened on Sunday to fight Netanyahu in the Knesset and said they would consider parliamentary sanctions against their own party, should Netanyahu succeed in pushing the freeze through the security cabinet.
The most painful blow that these coalition backbenchers could deal to the government would be to mount opposition to the upcoming votes on the state budget and its accompanying economic arrangements bill.
To plot this strategy, the Likud MKs, including coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, planned to meet in the Knesset on Monday. Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and MKs Danny Danon, Yariv Levin and Tzipi Hotovely are all expected to attend.
Separately, MK Uri Orbach, who heads the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset faction, threatened to act within his party to force it to leave the coalition, a move that would reduce the coalition from 74 to 71 mandates.
Even without Habayit Hayehudi, Netanyahu would retain a clear majority in the 120-member Knesset.
On Sunday, the prime minister presented the full cabinet with the plan to halt new settlement construction for 90 days in exchange for US security and diplomaticguarantees.
The draft of the proposal was hammered out on Thursday during a seven-hour meeting in New York between Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of their staff.
Netanyahu told the cabinet that the proposal was an preliminary one and that a final text was still under discussion.
It’s expected that US and Israeli officials will hold face-to-face meetings in the coming days to hammer out the details. Only then will Netanyahu bring the matter to the security cabinet.
In a bold gamble that it can push both Israelis and Palestinians to resolve the issue of borders in 90 days, Washington has pledged not to pressure Israel to continue its settlement freeze after that period of time.
If imposed, the freeze would reinstate the moratorium on new settlement construction and would be retroactive to September 26; as such it would halt all building that has begun since then.
Construction that was started before November 26, 2009, can continue, as it did during the earlier 10-month moratorium.
Before Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said, “I insist that any proposal meet the State of Israel’s security needs, both in the immediate term and vis-à-vis the threats we will face in the coming decade.”
He added that during his talks with Clinton and earlier with Vice President Joe Biden last week, as well as with other US politicians and officials, “I raised – first and foremost – the need to stop the Iranian nuclear project.
This is the greatest threat to both world peace and the security of the State of Israel.”
But many ministers were unswayed by his talk of Iran.
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) called the American proposal a “honey trap that will plunge us into another crisis with the Americans in the future, in three months or maybe even before then.”
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom (Likud) warned that approving the proposal would be a “strategic” mistake because the expectation is that during the 90-day freeze, the two sides would agree on a permanent border that could involve a withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria.
On Sunday night, Danon held an emergency meeting with regional and local council heads from Judea and Samaria, and with dozens of Likud activists to plot their strategy to sabotage the proposed freeze.
“The idea of Freeze II is another bad film from the Obama production company,” Danon said at the meetings. “It is strange that the election results in the United States didn’t light a giant warning light for Obama that the way to justify his Nobel Prize is not through pressuring Israel.”
Likud backbenchers were not the only members of the ruling party to slam the moratorium.
“This is not a question of three months, but a process that will ultimately bring about the determination of final borders,” warned Deputy Minister for Negev and Galilee Development Ayoub Kara (Likud). “The American ‘commitment’ to a veto [of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood] in the UN Security Council, which is restricted to a year, is a serious strategic error. This is the time frame dedicated to a final agreement, and if, God forbid, we don’t meet the conditions, the veto that was taken for granted in the past will turn into something uncertain.”
Kara dismissed the American offers of increased military and budgetary aid as “temptations that do not make the situation any better.”
“As long as the conversations with [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas aren’t being held in Gaza, there is no reason to continue the negotiations, and as long as Abbas isn’t able to step on Gazan soil because the rulers there don’t yield to temptations and stick to the benefits offered by 72 virgins, we can’t be pulled along after baseless promises,” Kara said.
Elkin and MK Arye Eldad (National Union) sent a letter on Sunday to the right-wing members of the government calling to oppose the US freeze proposal. The pair called on MKs to “stand with them in this testing time, to oppose every additional freeze and to demand a renewal of building, as the cabinet decided.”
The letter continued, “No security package can be as valuable as the security provided by the hills and the Jordan Valley.”
But opposition MKs in Kadima warned that refusing to accede to the American request for another moratorium could have bad consequences.
“Ideological stubbornness and political stubbornness will bring about a binational state,” warned MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima). “We must first and foremost maintain our national interests, of which settlement is just one, and to accept the American proposition that will ensure the continuation of the peace process alongside building in the settlement blocs.”
“We in Kadima,” added Schneller, “honestly intend to support the diplomatic process on the basis of two national states, to be partners in maintaining the national interests of Israel, and to join a unity government on a basis of ideology and national responsibility.”
AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.